CHICKEN AND EGG... UPFA is first! _ WPC Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga
When we look back at the last four Provincial Council elections, the UPFA received a two-thirds majority in all PCs except the North. The people living in the Western Province will definitely strengthen our President's hands. This will strengthen our resolve before the UNHRC session in March. The UPFA will definitely obtain more than a two-thirds majority at the forthcoming Western Province election. The UPFA won with a majority of 400,000 votes at the previous election and it is sure to win with a bigger majority this time, Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranathunga told the Daily News during a recent interview.
Here are the excerpts:
Q: The Western Provincial Council is to be dissolved soon and the election will be held on schedule. How about the future?
A: During the last four and half years we have done our best for the Western Province. We work in parallel with Mahinda Chinthanaya and Mahinda Chinthanaya - Vision for the future. Therefore, I as the Chief Minister or we as the Western Provincial Council did not introduce a separate policy. We are working according to the national policy of the country which is Mahinda Chinthanaya - Vision for the future. During the last four and half years we have rendered a significant service especially in the field of education and all the other sectors. Therefore, we do not have any fear or hesitation of facing any election. During the last four Provincial Council elections, the UPFA received a two-thirds majority except in the North.
Q: What are the main achievements of the WPC in all sectors during your tenure?
A: We have increased the amount of funds allocated for education by 100 per cent in 2012 and 2013. Before I was appointed as the Chief Minister of the WPC, Rs.800 million was allocated for education.
This amount was increased up to Rs.1,600 million by 2012. The teacher - student ratio that was maintained at one teacher for 25 students at that time was reduced to one teacher for 20 or 21 students during my tenure. In developed countries, the teacher - student ratio is one teacher for 10 students. Human and physical resources have been increased. Now, there are no closures of schools. We have re-opened schools that were closed. The number of students in the classroom was limited to 42. Teachers were given training as we (WP) had the lowest percentage of trained teachers in the primary sections. Only 51 per cent were trained teachers. In other provinces it was over 65 per cent. It was above 70 per cent in the Eastern Province. We obtained Rs. 100 million from President Mahinda Rajapaksa and began a program to train primary section teachers. By the end of this year, we will be able to achieve our 100 per cent target. Qualitative education under the concept of 'Best things for children' was formulated.
Dhamma school education was improved significantly. There are 2,700 registered Dhamma schools in the province. During the past two years (2012 and 2013) we have granted Rs. 100,000 for each of those Dhamma schools. The grant was given to Dhamma schools in all religions such as Islamic, Hindu, Christian and Catholic. This became the most popular program of the WPC. Dhamma schools promote morals and ethics in children and the grants were made to help create a better environment in Dhamma schools for the children to study. Schools provide the knowledge to them. In he Mahinda Chinthana program talks about the Guna Nena Weduma program. We have offered funds ranging from Rs. 75,000 to 150,000 for 1,267 schools under the program of 'Let us protect our schools using our own hands'. In the past, only selected schools received assistance and as a result of this a set of popular schools were created. We wanted to offer assistance and resources for all schools equally.
During the past four and half years, we have recruited over 10,000 graduates as teachers. There were only 33,000 teachers in the past but now this number has been increased to 36,000. Out of this number, about 12,000 graduate teachers were recruited during my tenure. We initiated the Guru Pawura program with the objective of guaranteeing their welfare. A teacher should be in a good mental and physical condition to teach students properly.
That is why we wanted to ensure their welfare. When I took over office there were foundation stones which were laid 15 to 20 years ago with no follow up action. I completed the work of over 70 per cent of such school buildings etc. We provided sanitation facilities for schools.
We have already carpeted over 70 per cent of Provincial roads and hope to complete the balance work by year's end. We have received funds from the Economic Development Ministry.
Over 12,000 have been recruited to other sectors. The number serving in the provincial state service was increased from 56,000 to 86,000. We expect to give an efficient and effective service to the people as envisaged by President Mahinda Rajapaksa from state employees.
Q: Some see the Provincial Council system as a white elephant. Please comment.
A: People used to call the Provincial Council system a white elephant in the past. Especially, during the 1988 - 1989 insurgency, people or councillors could not go out to work.
At that time they saw various shortcomings in the system and called it a white elephant. But after President Mahinda Rajapaksa completed the humanitarian operation and ended terrorism in 2009, we worked hard and proved to the people that the Provincial Council system is not a white elephant. We did it through hard work. That is why now we, the Provincial Councils and especially the UPFA receive a very positive response from the public.
Q: The Western Province is unique when compared to other provinces in Sri Lanka because of its diversity. Describe the services you rendered for special social categories such as low income groups and the lower middle class?
A: We always work with the Government. We helped build houses for the needy families in the rural areas. The Divi Neguma National program which was launched countrywide under the leadership of Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa has reached the rural people, strengthening their economy as a result. Five or six years ago, an egg cost around Rs. 50 during the Christmas season while a kilogram of chicken went up to Rs. 600 or more, but, the maximum price of an egg at present is around Rs. 15 and a kilogram of chicken is Rs. 390. These prices were recorded during the peak of the festive season. All those positive things happened because of the Divi Neguma program. A lot of village houses are now self sufficient when it comes to vegetables, eggs, etc. We did not import rice because now we are self-sufficient in rice.
Earlier, farmers drank poison without an income and the then Government had to import rice. The WPC commenced a program to re-cultivate abandoned paddy fields. We also assisted the home garden cultivation program. These are some of the projects we conducted in parallel with the Divi Naguma National program. We helped the village people and that is why the UPFA always get a large number of votes from villagers at every single election.
Q: What did you do for the betterment of the people living in the Gampaha district?
A: I was very fortunate to have Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa as the political leader of the Gampaha district, when I became the Chief Minister of the Western Province. In the past there were a President and a number of Prime Ministers hailing from this district, but, Minister Rajapaksa has done more work for the Gampaha district than all of them within a short time. There was no favouritism differentiating between the Central Government and the Provincial Council. The Gampaha district achieved a significant development and that is why people have place their faith in the UPFA which enabled it to win the Gampaha District by a majority of 400,000 votes during the recent election. The UPFA will win by a greater majority next time.
Q: Garbage and dengue are two main issues that affect almost all PCs especially the Western Province. Please comment.
A: Garbage and dengue are two main problems that affect most of the Asian countries at the moment. Implementation of the rules, regulations and programs is done by the PCs and the Local Government bodies. Decisions are made in Parliament, by the Health Ministry and other line ministries, etc. There were no plans in the past for garbage management in the WPC. It was we who introduced plans and solved the problems. We plan to generate electricity using garbage and have already commenced a program to this effect. We hope to get this project off the ground within the next two years.
Q: During the recent past there were many incidents reported in the media in connection with PC members' involvements in anti-social activities. Please analyse.
A: This trend commenced just before the CHOGM and again just prior to the recent budget. But, after those two very important events, nothing was reported in media and these stories have died down.
Therefore, the trend was created aiming to tarnish the Government's image during the CHOGM and the budget. It was a plot initiated by the opposition PC members.
Even the JVP was behind this plan to discredit the government by trying to highlight various 'issues' and organising protests.
Q: Do you think the opposition will be able to mount a formidable fight during the upcoming Western Provincial Council lection?
A: The opposition will never be able to create a background to give us a fight during the upcoming PC election. The internal rifts in the opposition is one of the key factors for their failure. The representatives of the people in the opposition do not have confidence in their leadership. One of the key opposition PC members has joined the UPFA. More UNP opposition members are now holding discussions with us to join the UPFA. They are facing numerous difficulties in their own party. The people do not have any confidence in the JVP any longer. It was proved by the results of the recent four PC elections. Today there is no political party that is capable of posing a real challenge for the UPFA. The people have faith in President Mahinda Rajapaksa and that is the main reason for the landslide victory of the UPFA during past elections. The WPC election result will provide a good reply to TNA and Northern PC election result. The educated people in the WPC will give this reply.
Q: What are the proposals do you envisage in order to make PCs more people-friendly?
A: The Provincial Council system was introduced to the country 25 years ago. This is quite a long period and it is high time to commence a discussion about the PC system. The PCs do not need Land and Police powers to work for the people. The only thing we need is the current set of powers enjoyed by us and funding provided by the Central Government. This is sufficient to serve the public in a fruitful manner.